One Acre Fund training in Kisumu, Kenya.

One Acre Fund training in Kisumu, Kenya.

Based on current trends, 59% of 20-24 year olds in sub-Saharan Africa will complete secondary education in 2030, compared to 42% in 2012. This translates into 137 million young people with secondary education and 12 million with tertiary education by 2030. Ironically, the most educated confront a mismatch between their training and available employment opportunities. Whilst 26% of students enrolled in University in Africa study humanities, only 2% of students are enrolled in agricultural programmes, and government and donor investments in agricultural education and training have become negligible since the early 1990s.[1]

Although Africa’s youth on the whole are increasingly better educated, rural youth are still plagued by low levels of literacy, poor numeracy, high dropout rates (particularly in secondary education) and low levels of tertiary enrolments. Further, more than half of the rural youth pursue activities other than farming, but often end up underemployed or unemployed.

Training tea farmers in climate adaptation. Credit, ITC.

Training tea farmers in climate adaptation. Credit, ITC.

Agricultural education and training (AET) covers a broad range of formal and informal activities that build capacity within the agriculture sector and for wider rural development encompassing higher education, diploma and certificate levels, vocational and in-service training and informal knowledge and skill acquisition.[2] Some of these provide formal education and training systems in schools and universities; others use training in private and public workforce organisations; and most relevant for smallholder farmers are education systems on the ground, such as farmer field schools.[3]

AET in sub-Saharan Africa can contribute to agricultural development by strengthening innovative capabilities, or the ability to introduce new products and processes that are relevant to smallholder farmers and other actors in the agricultural sector. Education is often the most valuable asset for rural people wishing to engage in jobs in the agricultural value chains where they need both technical knowledge and business skills.

Participants in CIMMYT's 2011Wheat Improvement and Pathology training program, attended by scientists from Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Credit, X. Fonseca, CIMMYT.

Participants in CIMMYT’s 2011Wheat Improvement and Pathology training program, attended by scientists from Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America. Credit, X. Fonseca, CIMMYT.

Innovation, often regarded as a pre-condition for successful entrepreneurship, is positively related to the level of education in most developed countries. However, the lack of access to educational opportunities in developing countries, especially for women, discourages the pursuit of an entrepreneurial career.[4] For women and young people in particular, vocational training and skill development are instrumental.

Whilst women make up about half of the African labour force, only 45% of women in Africa are literate, compared to 70% of men and about 1.5% of women achieve higher education. By focusing on building the capacity of young people and women in particular, African governments will be able to increase the productivity of a large proportion of their labour forces.

Contribution to Sustainable Intensification

Sustainable agriculture is a very knowledge-intensive, skilled activity based on changing environmental, social and institutional conditions that are specific to individual communities.[5] Agricultural education and training is therefore the principle source from which smallholder farmers can access resources for improving agricultural productivity and natural resource management. Education is often the most valuable asset for rural people trying to pursue new opportunities within agriculture, obtain skilled jobs, start businesses in the rural non-farm economy, or migrate successfully to better urban based job opportunities.

Agricultural education and training in sub-Saharan Africa can contribute to agricultural development by strengthening capabilities for innovation and willingness to adopt and apply new technologies.[6] In addition, farmers are able to engage with traders and other actors on a more equal footing. Although collective action in the form of farmer associations or cooperatives can be a source for continued agricultural education, they tend to be more effective when farmers have achieved a minimum level of literacy and numeracy.

Benefits and limitations

Limited access to education

Most African farmers only have access to primary education. Basic education is also frequently biased against agriculture since school curricula are normally designed for urban schools and not adapted for rural schools.[7] The quality of tertiary agricultural education is critical because it determines the expertise and competence of scientists, professionals, technicians, teachers, and civil service and business leaders in all aspects of agriculture and related industries. It raises their capacities to access knowledge and adapt it to prevailing challenges and to generate new knowledge and impart it to others. The absence or decline of education and training institutions leaves a large gap in a country’s innovation capacity. Even so, government and donor investments in agricultural education and training have become negligible since the early 1990s.[8]

The 2003 Jinja Consensus highlighted the need for change in university level education in Africa and called for the creation of a new African agricultural university to build a new cadre of agricultural graduates who will go on to become entrepreneurs rather than confining themselves to existing agricultural education, research, and extension organisations.[9] Although it is widely recognized that the quality of graduate and postgraduate agricultural education in Africa must be improved, the status and performance of agricultural institutes still face many hurdles.

Education and technology

In view of the large distances between farms and markets across Africa and poor connective infrastructure, agricultural actors need to take greater advantage of modern information and communication technologies (ICTs) and distance learning methodologies that can facilitate access to improved knowledge.[10] Farmer-to-farmer communication is also a powerful tool since most people communicate more easily with their peers and tend to quickly adopt practices once recognized as successful. Although most platforms encourage value chain integration more than knowledge enhancement, WeFarm[11] is a peer-to-peer communications platform created by the Cafédirect Producers’ Foundation that supports person-person knowledge sharing and community extension services. The digital platform enables isolated smallholder farmers in Latin America to crowd source solutions from a global community by using a basic mobile phone to send a local-rate text message.

Education for agricultural entrepreneurship

To make careers along agriculture value chains more attractive, the way that agriculture is presented to students needs to be adjusted. This can be achieved through public sector youth training programmes, for example, which help young graduates become successful agricultural entrepreneurs.[12] In 2014, the World Bank approved US$150 million to finance 19 university-based Centres of Excellence in 7 countries in West and Central Africa to equip young Africans with new scientific and technical skills in various disciplines including agriculture. Further, as part of the German government’s new food and nutrition initiative ‘One World No Hunger’, 10 ‘Green Innovation Centres’ will be established that seek to improve smallholder farmers’ incomes, generate employment opportunities and secure the delivery of more nutritious food. The centres aim to introduce and support the diffusion of new technologies in agricultural value chains in partnership with private sector companies such as BASF and Bayer.[13]

Integration of educational programmes

At a basic level many of the conventional agricultural ‎‎education and training approaches are designed to ‎‎build human and scientific capital through technical training. This is a worthy objective but often falls short of education in how to deal with the non-technical problems that farmers face.[14] There is a need for better integration of programmes in formal education institutions. A shift in approach is also needed to prepare graduates of agriculture education programmes for new kinds of employment opportunities.[15] Educational materials need to be linked to advances in technology, and have greater relevance to a diverse and evolving sector, with a focus on agribusiness and entrepreneurship. Beyond technical skills, building capacity for management, decision-making, communication and leadership should also be central.[16]

An evaluation of agricultural institutions and services is needed to restore the quality of graduate and postgraduate agricultural education in Africa.[17] In response to this challenge, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) developed the Framework for African Agricultural Productivity (FAAP).[18] FAAP calls for strengthening farmer empowerment and states that “farmers who have the capacity to analyse their constraints and identify opportunities, articulate their needs, exchange knowledge, and improve their bargaining power will have better access to, and use of, relevant agricultural knowledge and technologies.” FAAP also calls for increased farmer training and education both as a way to stimulate agricultural productivity and as a way to make farming as a career more attractive to young people.[19]

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Case Studies

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Case study 1: Agricultural technical and vocational education and training (ATVET)
Farmer Field School in Mozambique. Credit, Food for the Hungry.

Farmer Field School in Mozambique. Credit, Food for the Hungry.

An ongoing project run by the German Development Agency (GIZ) aims to integrate sustainable vocational training for the agricultural sector into the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) implementation process so as to establish the expertise required for developing successful agribusiness value chains. Pilot vocational training courses for “agripreneurs” are aimed at young people across Africa and designed to address market needs. The project has contributed to placing vocational training for the agricultural sector on the national agendas in Ghana, Kenya, Benin, Namibia, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone so promoting a high level of awareness of the importance of agricultural training among policymakers.

In 2013 there were 25 agricultural technical and vocational education and training (ATVET) colleges (5 federal and 20 regional) in Ethiopia. Regional ATVET colleges have the freedom to design their training according to the needs of the local labour market. They also provide training to small enterprises in rural areas. More than 1,840 Farmers Training Centres (FTCs) are now fully functional with the facilities to provide both classroom and field training. Around 72,000 Development Agents (DA) have been trained and employed by the government to provide extension services at a ratio of 1 DA to 200 farmers. Usually 3 DAs are allocated to each FTC alongside 1 plant scientist, 1 animal scientist and 1 expert in natural resource management. In addition, 1 animal health and 1 cooperative DA are shared between 3-5 FTCs. The agricultural sector in Ethiopia has grown in productivity by an average of 6% per annum since 2006, and this is believed to be largely thanks to the DAs, FTCs and ATVET colleges.[1]

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Case study 2: Sustainable tea production training, Kenya
Farmer picks team. Credit, DFID.

Farmer picks team. Credit, DFID.

Lipton Tea has partnered with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to encourage smallholders to produce tea more sustainably and profitably. Using expertise from the Tea Research Foundation of Kenya, a farmer field school (FFS) approach to extension was used to communicate sustainability guidelines to 450,000 smallholder farmers whilst encouraging them to find their own solutions to improve practices and share learnings with each other.[1] This bottom-up approach resulted in the development of high levels of ‎social capital, up to 35% increased annual yields and renewed focus on improved ‎water and land management.[2]

By early 2015 Rainforest Alliance (RA) certification had been granted to more than 300,000 farmers and all of KTDA’s factories.[3] RA certification ensures that “farms and forests are managed according to rigorous environmental, social and economic criteria.”[4] Farmers and workers are required to undertake additional training in best practice, and subsequently are paid at least the minimum wage, treated in compliance with national laws on worker conditions, and have been trained in pest management, conservation, and soil health improvement practices.[5]

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Case Study 3: The impact of Farmer Field Schools in Tanzania
Farmer training workshop in Tanzania. Credit, A.Eitzinger, CIAT.

Farmer training workshop in Tanzania. Credit, A.Eitzinger, CIAT.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) ran the East African Sub-Regional Project for farmer field schools (FFS) from 1999-2008 in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania across 8 pilot sites. A second expansion phase of the project started in October 2005 and ran for 3 years in Tanzania’s Bukoba, Muleba, and Missenyi districts. The objectives were to make FFS more cost effective, sustainable and more responsive to farmer’s needs. The project focused on empowering rather than instructing participants, and aimed to improve the impact of agricultural research and technology transfer.

A study on the impact of the FAO FFS program in Tanzania surveyed nearly 380 farmers, around 270 who had been engaged in an FAO FFS. Compared to non-FFS farmers, FFS farmers produced 23% more crops and 6% more livestock, whilst earning 2 times the amount of household income per capita. The impact on women was even more significant. Female-headed households showed a 53% increase in crop productivity following participation in an FFS, and female income from agriculture increased by 155%. FFS ‎‎training had the largest impact on those with no education, who showed an increase in crop income of 129% compared to 29% for those with a primary education and 11% for those who had some secondary education.[1]

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Room for Innovation

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